The Philippine interior minister has urged hundreds of top-ranking police to resign as the government seeks to “cleanse” the corruption-tainted force of officers involved in the illegal drug trade.
Police have been waging an anti-narcotics campaign launched by former president Rodrigo Duterte and continued by his successor Ferdinand Marcos.
On Wednesday, interior secretary Benjamin Abalos urged all colonels and generals – about 300 in total in the 227,000-strong police force – to offer “courtesy” resignations after a probe found a “handful” were involved in narcotics.
They could continue working while their records were assessed by a five-member committee. Those found guilty would have their resignations accepted, Abalos said.
“If you’re not involved, there’s nothing to worry about,” Abalos told a news conference at national police headquarters in Manila. Anyone who did not tender their resignation would be “questionable”, he said.
Abalos described the approach as radical and a “shortcut” after previous investigations into allegedly corrupt officers took a long time and produced few results.
Asked for comment, Police Colonel Redrico Maranan, head of public information for the force, told reporters that officers would follow the decisions of political leaders “because we know all these are for the good of our organisation”.
‘Only way to cleanse the ranks’
It is not the first time such draconian measures have been used to clean up the Philippine police force.
Former president Fidel Ramos cracked down on police in the early 1990s, ordering all officers above 56 years of age or with more than 30 years of service to resign. The chief of the national police and nine other senior officers resigned as a result.
The latest plan was recommended by police chief General Rodolfo Azurin and other senior officers, Abalos said. Azurin would be among those expected to tender his resignation while his record was checked, he said.
“This is the only way to cleanse the ranks in a fast manner,” Abalos said. “It’s difficult to fight a war when it’s your ally that will shoot you in the back.”
Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Lo, reporting from Manila, said the latest announcement follows a drug raid in December in which a district chief of the Philippine drug enforcement agency and his agents were arrested and caught with several kilogrammes of methamphetamine.
“Duterte himself said that it was to the best of his knowledge that police generals within the Philippine national police are involved in the illegal drug trade. Abalos said clearly there is an internal problem here and … the wheels of justice in the Philippines just turn so slow, so this is a radical move, he said, that is necessary,” Lo said.
“But human rights groups say this undermines the Philippines criminal justice system and that they would rather that the International Criminal Court step in and investigate airing public officials as well as police generals and colonels.”
In the past six months, authorities have confiscated 10 billion pesos ($179m) worth of methamphetamine, including a record seizure of 990kg (2,183 pounds) with an estimated street value of 6.7 billion pesos in October.
Police officers have killed thousands of alleged dealers and users since mid-2016, but critics say the wealthy and powerful have been largely untouched.